Minister of State (Canada)

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A Minister of State is a junior cabinet minister in the Canadian Cabinet, usually given specific responsibilities to assist a senior cabinet minister in a specific area.

A secretary of state also holds many similar responsibilities in assisting senior cabinet members, being members of the Ministry and the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. A Secretary of State is legally a Minister of State styled as secretaries. However Secretaries of State are considered junior to ministers of state and are not members of Cabinet.


The title "Minister of State" was created during the government of Pierre Trudeau in 1971 under the Ministries and Ministers of State Act. This act allows for the creation of two different types of ministers of state. Sections 2 through 10 allow for the creation of a ministry of state, which is a temporary government department established by separating parts of departments created by law. A minister of state can be the head of such a ministry. Sections 11 and 12 of the act allow for the creation of a minister of state who "may be assigned by the Governor in Council to assist any minister or ministers having responsibilities for any department or other portion of the public service of Canada in the carrying out of those responsibilities". The latter has become far more common and, by and large, the former has fallen into disuse.

Under Brian Mulroney and his successors, the title of Minister of State without any responsibilities attached has been used to appoint what had previously been called ministers without portfolio. Ministers of State are also members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, as is required for them to be a part of the ministry.

During the government of Jean Chrétien, assistants to senior cabinet ministers were often styled as secretary of state, considered junior to ministers of state, and were not members of Cabinet. Under Chrétien, the title "minister of state," with a specific policy responsibility, was usually given to either a Cabinet minister, in addition to his or her other responsibilities, or to the deputy prime minister, government house leader or leader of the government in the Senate. Chrétien also had parliamentary secretaries, ranking below secretaries of state, who were set to two-year terms and the post was used as a reward for weary backbenchers. Their duty was to answer questions and table reports on behalf of ministers when they were unable to be present in the house.

Paul Martin eliminated the position of secretary of state and reverted to using the title "minister of state" for junior cabinet ministers. The day he took office, Martin realigned various government departments. However, this can be done by changing the law only so, in reality, he set up various ministries of state headed by ministers of state. All such ministries of state and their ministers were styled as proper ministers of permanent departments. Over the course of his government, most of these departments were created in law and the ministers of state became ministers of the new departments as their empowering legislation received royal assent.

When Stephen Harper became Prime Minister on February 6, 2006, he did not include any Ministers of State in his cabinet. Derek Burney, the head of Harper's transition team, noted to the press that this was intentional: Ministers of State and the role of Deputy Prime Minister were omitted to create a cabinet of full equals.[1] In actuality, Harper did appoint a number of Ministers of State in order to give certain ministers responsibilities outside of their portfolios, however all of these Ministers of States were also full Cabinet ministers and their formal titles were styled such as to omit "of state".[2] On January 4, 2007, Harper added five Secretaries of State to his ministry thus reviving the practice of appointing junior ministers outside of the Cabinet. On October 30, 2008, Harper added 11 Ministers of State to his Cabinet. On January 4, 2011, Harper added one Minister of State to his Cabinet to a total of 12. In 2015, the 29th cabinet led by Justin Trudeau, formed and updated several ministries including the formation of Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities from the previous junior position Minister of State (Sport).[3]

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